BLOG When I was a lad….
23 Oct 12 | By Tim Mahon
That used to be a stock phrase presaging any one of a series of acerbic comments from my father round the Sunday lunch table. As I turn into a grumpy old man (way before my time, I might add) I find myself saying similar things. Just occasionally, however, the juxtaposition of a chance comment and a train of reflection produce something I feel compelled to share with a wider audience.
The latest ‘chance phrase’ comes from reading today that the Fiji Peacekeeping Veteran’s Group proposed last week that there should be "compulsory military training for men and women between the ages of 18 and 21.” The Group’s coordinator, Taniela Senikuta, told the Constitution Commission that "this will help youths build their character, become disciplined and help curb crime.”
This is an argument that keeps cropping up and has a number of things going for it. In an age in which the installation of discipline within the family seems to be largely a thing of the past – and subject to government interference telling us how to behave (under the guise of protecting minors from abuse) – there is, perhaps, a strong argument for using some form of national service as a tool to the overall benefit of society. After all, National Service worked in the UK. Or did it?
Like most things in our community today, the situation has changed. I should think that the personnel and manpower planners at the Ministry of Defence would shudder at the thought of bringing hordes of pimple faced youths into the forces once more, training them for 18 months and getting 6 months useful service out of them before releasing them back into the wilds of the High Street. Its not a model that speaks to the armed forces requirement for cost-effective development of talented and capable, efficient troops, somewhat more cerebral, perhaps, than their forebears.
But is there a need for some form of – optional – training that
might better prepare today’s youth for life and make their potential
contribution to society more meaningful and effective? I have a nephew just
embarked on his Master’s Degree course in the UK and I am confident he will
contribute effectively to society when he enters the workplace – and in a
relatively disciplined manner. But is he the exception that proves the rule?
I don’t know enough about the pressures and dilemmas of modern parenthood, though I talk regularly with peers and contemporaries who have that task – or privilege. I do know that in some cases there would be undoubted benefits from applying the discipline, ethos and appreciation of self worth that comes from military training to a wider swathe of society. I also know we should not seek to inflict such a role on our armed forces when they are under such severe financial and moral pressure as they find themselves today.
Perhaps the answer lies in that most British of initiatives – at least in modern day Britain – privatisation. Private and semi-private academies (I had a friend in the US who sent his boys to the Virginia Military Institute "to rub the rough edges off and make men of them,”) undoubtedly have a role to play – but who pays for them?
One answer, perhaps, is to divert some (not all) of the funding that goes into job creation and training schemes. Is there not a measurable advantage to providing a training environment that may stimulate initiative and a ‘self-start’ ethos in those receptive to such sentiments? Might we not all benefit from a generation of young people who have at least a taste of an alternative, somewhat more regimented method of ‘doing the right thing?’
I am not a proponent of the sausage machine mentality. To roll out clones of a mid 20th century National Serviceman is not a laudable objective in the early 21st century – even if it was achievable. But the youth of today is the leadership of tomorrow – and we complain so much about the quality of our national regional and local leadership today I wonder whether it doesn’t make sense to try to do something about it?
Some of the larger companies in the training community have their own academies and work with national and local authorities in the spirit of good corporate citizenship to foster educated, responsible behaviour. They do so in many cases to increase the quality of the potential labour pool they will have in the immediate future. There is something in this worth investigating, to determine whether there is some benefit in a public/private joint venture that might benefit absolutely (or nearly) everybody.